Love + Chocolate

by Sherri Athay
Founder, Truffle Shots

Is chocolate an aphrodisiac? The Aztecs thought so. Rumor has it Casanova was a fan. Given Merriam-Webster's definition of, "something that excites," the answer would have to be a resounding, "yes!" On the other hand, the FDA might consider any aphrodisiacal claim to be, "false, misleading, or unsupported by scientific data."

It is tantalizing to theorize that chocolate—long associated with love and romance—can produce positive psychological or physiological effects on libido. In a study, recorded in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, to assess whether there is an association between daily chocolate intake and sexual function, a team of researchers in northern Italy found that women reporting daily chocolate consumption noted higher sexual function scores than women who do not eat chocolate.

At first blush, the results are titillating. But on closer examination we find the chocolate eaters to be younger—therefore, having naturally higher libidos—than the non-chocolate eaters. When adjusted for age, the sexual function scores are similar, regardless of chocolate consumption.

So why is it that women of all ages are heard to exclaim chocolate is better than sex (one of our less-inhibited customers going so far as to say, "Truffle Shots® are The Big-O!")?

A passionate kiss can set the heart pounding. But, the BBC News reports that research conducted by neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis revealed chocolate elicits more excitement than does kissing. Lewis, dubbed the 'father of neuromarketing,' is founder and director at Mindlab International in Brighton, England where he specializes in non-invasive techniques for measuring human responses under real-life conditions.

Lewis and his team monitored the brain and heart rates of couples in their twenties as they melted chocolate in their mouths, and again when they kissed.

The winner? "There is no doubt that chocolate beats kissing hands down when it comes to providing a long-lasting body and brain buzz," Lewis told the BBC.

In many cases, that buzz, according to Lewis, lasted four times as long as the most passionate kiss. And heart rates more than doubled—from 60 to 140 beats per minute. The reaction was similar in both sexes.

"These results really surprised and intrigued us," Lewis admitted to the BBC. "While we fully expected chocolate—especially dark chocolate—to increase heart rates due to the fact it contains some highly stimulating substances, both the length of the increase, together with the powerful effects it had on the mind, were something none of us had anticipated."

The neurotransmitters that contribute to feelings of happiness and euphoria during sex are also found in chocolate. Chocolate contains phenethylamine, a stimulant released in the brain when people fall in love. It also contains tryptophan, a building block of serotonin that elevates mood and arousal.

Along with caffeine—also found in chocolate—these mildly addictive, pleasure-giving substances might explain why chocolate can give people a euphoric high akin to falling in love (and why people can become so addicted to that chocolate buzz). But does the presence of chemicals associated with elevated feelings of passion, love, lust, even stamina, warrant chocolate classification as an aphrodisiac?

Many believe the mind is the most potent aphrodisiac there is. If chocolate's ascribed aphrodisiac qualities get you thinking about sex, it tends to have a strong placebo effect. It has been said that the legendary lover, Casanova, extolled chocolate for its ability to turn on the pleasure sensors in the brain, as well as improve his stamina with the ladies. And the Aztec emperor Montezuma is said to have consumed copious amounts—up to 50 cups—of stamina-boosting chocolate elixir before entering his harem. It comes as no surprise that since the days of Montezuma, chocolate has remained an edible symbol of love.

But, is it an aphrodisiac? Does the answer lie in the psychology or the physiology? Many researchers believe that if chocolate has any aphrodisiac qualities, they are likely psychological, not physiological—the amounts of phenethylamine and tryptophan too small to have measurable effect on libido.

On the other hand, it was chocolate that set hearts racing faster and longer for Dr. Lewis' lip-locked twenty-somethings. What's not to love about that?